A few years back I was at a film festival and saw a movie about a young man in a Scottish fishing village who spent time learning the old local folk music. One by one, the elders were dying and taking history with them and the young man was trying to preserve some of it. I was reminded of that when I read Christine Sloan Stoddard’s graphic novella Bus 900, trying to uncover some of the fading folklore involved, and the frustration that sometimes Google doesn’t have all the answers.
The mythological fachan, a beast with one eye, one arm, and one leg is key to the story. In the periphery is the unicorn, another creature of Scottish lore. After doing some research, I found very little on the fachan just its description, nothing of any of its deeds. The unicorn has taken on a global meaning of a symbol of the magical, the majestic, and the rare, far beyond the original Scottish meaning. As I read, I wanted to confine what I knew about unicorns to the Scottish version to draw more meaning from the story. But folklore often is jumbled and incestuous.
The story centers around a family, Craig the grandfather, his daughter and son-in-law, and his grandson, Dale. Dale is missing a hand due to a freak accident and imagines himself becoming the one-armed fachan. Craig used to make props for the National Theater of Scotland but now suffers from dementia. He confuses the props he used to make with animate objects and folk stories with reality.
In one panel Craig is telling his grandson, Dale, that the fachan ate the unicorn. Is that a part of some folklore that is fading out? I could find no reference to that in my research. I suppose that if I had grown up in Scotland I would have known all about it. Craig imagines one of the hands he created as a prop is the one missing from his grandson, and he blames himself for his grandson’s injury. We feel the cloudy confusion that is Craig’s reality.
The story juxtaposes the historical lore with modern settings, and each adds to the other. We see a couple in obvious distress at their child only having one hand and their father having dementia. Our world poses hazards to both the young and the old. How fragile are the things we love, even from what seems like harmless frivolity?
Dreams are another aspect: the dreams of childhood imagination and the dreams of dementia. The nightmare of the fachan who is vilified because of its ungainly appearance and the fantasy of the unicorn that is often portrayed as a rescuer. Hinted at is how these are used as the archetypes in our stories from generation to generation.
Overall, the dialogue is sparse and left me wanting more. That is not necessarily a bad thing; after reading I was prompted to dig deeper into the lore that the story is built around. Much of the story was communicated well by Laura Bramble’s beautiful artwork. The story and art have a pensive quality. It makes one wonder about far-off places and wander in our minds. It makes one think of the continuity between the young and the old and the period of adulthood that comes between, forcing an unwelcome reality on us. It is a touching and welcome distraction from modern life.
Bus 900 was written by Christine Sloan Stoddard and illustrated by Laura Bramble. It was published by Quail Bell Press
About the author
Christine Sloan Stoddard is a Salvadoran-American writer, artist, and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. She has shared her films, paintings, poetry, performances, and more with Ms. Magazine, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Queens Museum, the Poe Museum, and other organizations. Her latest books are Belladonna Magic: Spells in the Form of Poetry & Photography (Shanti Arts) and Desert Fox by the Sea (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle). Currently, she is the artist-in-residence at HeartShare Human Services of New York.
If you want a copy, all you have to do is send her $3 by Venmo (christine-stoddard-2) or PayPal ([email protected]) and she will mail it to you. Include your mailing address in the notes.